Toward early estimation and treatment of addiction vulnerability: radial arm maze and N-acetyl cysteine before cocaine sensitization or nicotine self-administration in neonatal ventral hippocampal lesion rats

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Rational: Prefrontal cortical (PFC)–hippocampal–striatal circuits, interconnected via glutamatergic signaling, are dysfunctional in mental illnesses that involve addiction vulnerability. Objectives: In healthy and neurodevelopmentally altered rats, we examined how Radial Arm Maze (RAM) performance estimates addiction vulnerability, and how starting a glutamatergic modulating agent, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) in adolescence alters adult mental illness and/or addiction phenotypes. Methods: Rats with neonatal ventral hippocampal lesions (NVHL) vs. SHAM-operated controls were randomized to NAC vs. saline in adolescence followed by cognitive testing (RAM) in early adulthood and then cocaine behavioral sensitization (experiment 1; n = 80) or nicotine self-administration (experiment 2; n = 12). Results: In experiment 1, NVHL rats showed over-consumption of food (Froot-Loops (FL)) baiting the RAM with poor working memory (low-arm entries to repeat (ETR)), producing an elevated FL to ETR ratio (“FLETR”; p < 0.001). FLETR was the best linear estimator (compared to FL or ETR) of magnitude of long-term cocaine sensitization (R2 = 0.14, p < 0.001). NAC treatment did not alter FL, ETR, FLETR, or cocaine sensitization. In experiment 2, FLETR also significantly and uniquely correlated with subsequent drug seeking during nicotine-induced reinstatement after extinction of nicotine self-administration (R2 = 0.47, p < 0.01). NAC did not alter RAM performance, but significantly reversed NVHL-induced increases in nicotine seeking during extinction and reinstatement. Conclusions: These findings demonstrate the utility of animal models of mental illness with addiction vulnerability for developing novel diagnostic measures of PFC–hippocampal–striatal circuit dysfunction that may reflect addiction risk. Such tests may direct pharmacological treatments prior to adulthood and addictive drug exposure, to prevent or treat adult addictions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3933-3945
Number of pages13
Issue number23-24
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016



  • Adolescence
  • Behavioral sensitization
  • Cocaine
  • Dual diagnosis
  • N-acetyl cysteine
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Radial arm maze
  • Schizophrenia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

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